Tomlinson makes big-league debut
Waupaca graduate umpires Texas Rangers’ games
By Greg Seubert
It’s a long way from a baseball diamond in Waupaca to the home field of the Texas Rangers.
For Nate Tomlinson, the journey was well worth the wait.
The 2009 Waupaca High School graduate made his Major League Baseball umpiring debut Aug. 7-9 with a three-game series between the Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
After working at second and first base for the first two games, Tomlinson was behind the plate Aug. 9 for the series finale, a 7-3 Rangers win.
Tomlinson’s goal of becoming a Major League Baseball umpire began a decade ago at the Jim Adams Academy of Professional Umpiring in Florida.
“He had done enough research on it to know that it was a long haul and that his odds were not very good,” said Nate’s dad, Jack Tomlinson. When he went to umpire school, he was in a class of a 145 guys. He was the youngest and they only took about 20 guys. He ranked No. 17 out of that whole group, so they immediately found something they liked in him.”
Nate split time between the Coastal Plain and Northwoods leagues in 2010 and began umpiring Minor League Baseball games in 2011 in the Arizona League followed by the Northwest League (2012), Midwest League (2013), Florida State League (2014) and California League (2015).
“Halfway through 2015, I was promoted to the Double-A Texas League,” Nate said. “I worked in the Texas League for the rest of 2015, 2016 and 2017. After the 2017 season, I was promoted to Triple-A and my first year in Triple-A was 2018 and I was in Triple-A last year.”
Nate was scheduled to start his 10th season in the Minor Leagues this year, but COVID-19 put his future in limbo.
“I don’t know if I really expected to be working baseball this year,” he said. “Nobody was quite sure if Major League Baseball was going to start. Minor League Baseball was definitely not going to start. We were all just waiting on word from somebody to confirm or deny the rumors.”
A shortened 60-game Major League Baseball season got underway in late July, which opened the door for an opportunity.
“I was given the opportunity to be an alternate, a call-up guy for Major League Baseball,” Nate said. “I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to be here and to have a chance to work in the big leagues, which not a lot of people get to do.”
On the field
The Rangers opened the series with a 4-3 win Aug. 7 and followed that up with a 2-0 win the following day.
“I was nervous, I was excited, I was anxious, every feeling you could possibly feel for that first game,” Nate said. ”You’re just trying to get that first one out of the way and get to the next one and find a little rhythm. Hopefully, I’ve done that.”
Nate has umpired more than 1,000 Minor League games over the years, but none of them compared to calling balls and strikes with players such as the Angels’ Mike Trout at home plate.
The Aug. 9 game lasted more than three hours.
“I took a deep breath and said, ‘I did it, that’s one down, let’s do it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after,’” Nate said.
He didn’t have much time to reflect on the series, as he started a three-game set in Texas between the Rangers and Seattle Mariners Aug. 10.
Baseball and COVID-19
Playing games in empty stadiums isn’t the only change that MLB is dealing with this season.
“We get tested just like the players,” Nate said. “We’re on the field, so we get the same testing. We don’t want to get sick, we don’t want to get anyone else sick, we don’t want to be a problem at all. We do exactly what we’re told to do and keep moving along.”
He also stays in a hotel room all day long except for the game.
“Baseball’s done everything they possibly can to keep everybody safe,” Nate said. “They’ve done a great job of it so far. We have to do our part, too. We’re getting tested and we’re not around people except for our crew, the players or people in our protocol. We’re wearing masks on the field, behind the plate, on the bases. We’re not taking any chances because we want this to keep going and we want everybody to be healthy and safe.”
Nate, who grew up playing baseball in Waupaca, called his parents, Jack and Denise, less than a week before his MLB debut and told them he would be on the field in Texas.
“It was my first-ever job, umpiring for the City of Waupaca,” he said. “I was 13 or 14. I liked making money, I always loved baseball and I always wanted to be in the big leagues, but I wasn’t going to get there being a player. I was going to try to find another way and this is my route.”
Nate’s family has attended several of his Minor League games over the years, but Jack and Denise were at home for their son’s debut after purchasing an MLB package through YouTube TV.
“We’re elated that he got the chance, but very disappointed that we couldn’t go down and see it in person,” Jack said. “We have seen him in every league in every season and usually multiple times. There wasn’t anything we could do. Nate said, ‘Major League Baseball does not want you to be down here visiting with me.’ We’re stuck at home like everybody else.”
“This is a great, fantastic opportunity for me, but there’s absolutely no guarantee,” Nate said. It’s an honor and a privilege. I’m happy to be here and I hope I get to stick around and get more chances. That’s something that has to be earned everyday.”